A decade after apparently being snubbed by the Establishment for supporting experiments on animals, Professor Colin Blakemore has finally been given his knighthood.
In December 2003, Professor Blakemore discovered that he had been denied the normally automatic knighthood granted to the chief executive of the Medical Research Council (MRC). He threatened to resign as leaked Government documents suggested the snub was due to his high-profile association with animal experiments – an association that had already seen him face abusive protests outside his house, letters laced with razor blades and threats to kidnap his children.
Only a parliamentary inquiry persuaded him to withdraw his resignation threat.
A knighthood continued to elude him, however, and when Professor Blakemore eventually stepped down in 2007, it was as the first chief executive of the MRC to leave office without the honour.
But the neuroscientist has been pleasantly surprised to be knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Professor Blakemore, 70, who is now the director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses at the University of London, said: “This is the cream on the cake – final evidence that things have changed right to the top of society. In many ways I’m surprised. Attitudes have changed enormously over the years and the sort of stance I and others took is now much more recognised and seen much more positively. But it was still difficult to believe that opinions could reverse in this way.”
He said when he threatened to resign 10 years ago it was not out of “pique”, but because his work was threatened.
“I felt my effectiveness was being undermined. It became clear that people who were willing to get involved in controversial issues could be persecuted in secret. I found that disturbing.”
Explaining why he refused to be silenced by animal rights extremists, he said: “Giving in would have made that kind of campaign more effective.”
The knighthood was welcomed by Professor David Nutt, who was himself dismissed as the Government’s chief drug adviser after claiming that ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol.
Professor Nutt, of Imperial College London, said: “Colin has shown a unique ability to combine innovation and intellectual honesty. The scientific community will welcome this long-overdue recognition.”